An Analysis of the Extent, Purposes, and Outcomes of Ski Areas’ Environmental Communications
This qualitative study investigates the extent, purposes, and outcomes of environmental communications (hereafter ECs) produced by ski areas on New Zealand’s South Island. Researchers have examined why ski areas participate in environmental initiatives, but there is a dearth of knowledge regarding why communications about these environmental efforts are published. Skiing exerts significant environmental impacts but is simultaneously reliant on particular environmental conditions. The ECs of ski areas, as one way in which reactions to these impacts and vulnerabilities are communicated, warrant study. In addition to analysing the ski areas’ ECs, semi-structured, in-depth interviews with insiders from the ski areas and with skiers were used to investigate the extent, purposes, and outcomes of the ECs. Legitimacy theory, which postulates that organisations must demonstrate they embrace societal values in order to remain profitable, is utilised as a theoretical lens for approaching this topic. Thematic data analysis of the ECs, interviews with ski area managers, and interviews with skiers was conducted using an inductive, interpretive approach which allowed for the periodic revision of coding themes as they emerged throughout the analysis process. The following themes were identified from interviews with ski area insiders and analysis of the ski areas’ ECs: a focus on local, tangible environmental issues, numerous constraints restricting the production and dissemination of ECs, a range of impetuses driving engagement in EC, EC as interwoven with developing and maintaining social legitimacy, and the outcomes of EC being seen as distinctly varied. As predicted by the insiders, analysis of interviews with skiers found they were unaware of ECs not related to recycling; and, due to the perceived lack of prominence of the ECs, skiers did not express sentiments of ‘green fatigue.’ As also anticipated by the insiders, skiers were unwilling to make destination choices or restrict skiing based upon the ski areas’ environmental performance. Skiers believed the ECs are published because there is no disadvantage to doing so and a competitive advantage amongst a small audience may result, they accepted the accuracy and legitimacy of the ECs, and they perceived skiing to be a relatively benign use of nature. Follow-up interviews with ski area insiders allowed discussion of key points of interest from the interviews with skiers. During the follow-up interviews the insiders contrasted local skiers, ski area staff, and the Department of Conservation with ‘holiday skiers’ (the latter being seen as not prioritising environmental performance) to explain why ECs continue to be published despite skiers’ lack of awareness of those communications and unwillingness to make destination choices based on such factors. The insiders viewed skiers’ lack of ‘green fatigue’ as stemming from the ski areas’ restrained approach to using ECs, the small size of the ski areas, and the ‘clean and green’ image attached to New Zealand. In addition to the formal thematic analysis, two discussion points are critically examined. First, the thesis offers a critique of EC due to the complexities inherent in delineating the concept. These complexities arose both in terms of demarcating the ‘environmental’ aspect of EC (e.g. non-environmental factors, such as a ski area being family owned, being salient in shaping how the ski area’s environmental impact is viewed) in addition to the ‘communication’ aspect of the concept (e.g. communications arising from skiers rather than the ski area via dialogue-enabled mediums such as social media potentially influencing a ski area’s pro-environmental image). Second, there is a lack of attention afforded ski tourists’ transportation when envisioning an environmentally responsible skier or ski area. Interviews with ski area insiders indicated they view skiers’ non-local transport as outside their purview. Skiers likewise did not deem themselves or the ski areas as responsible for addressing transport-related impacts. As climate change poses one of the greatest threats to tourism in general, and skiing specifically, the lack of substantive efforts to address tourists’ transportation is egregious.
Advisor: Higham, James; Carr, Neil
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Department of Tourism
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: skiing; ski tourism; environmental communication; climate change; green marketing; transport
Research Type: Thesis